Some phones debut with fanfare -- the flagships, the moneymakers. Others are unceremoniously ushered into a lineup -- stinkers from the beginning. But there's a third group that lack the flash, but are still worth a look. And the Sprint Flash is one of those phones.
The Flash, made by China-based ZTE, arrived to stores without hoopla -- blink and you'll miss it -- but its screen and camera are worthy of a more high-profile release. So if you're on a budget, but still want top-notch features -- and who doesn't? -- it's a great bang for the buck, even if all 12-megapixels doesn't work as well as advertised.
What's the Phone?
ZTE gets bonus points for eco-friendly materials, but the design isn't too exciting. The curvy, yet boxy frame features chrome rings around the sides, and I wouldn't go so far as to say it's ugly, but it's definitely not a looker. Still, soft touch dimples on the back give it a distinct feel, and the top juts out to support the camera lens, giving it a gentle slope. At five ounces, it's fairly chunky.
Fortunately, the 4.5-inch is sharp for a mid-range device. The 1,280-by-720 resolution offers a detailed canvas to watch movies and browse the Web, and IPS technology, at 24-bits of color, are vibrant at all angles. Now, you can't expect the same vibrancy as on high-end devices, but for the price, the quality impressive.
For most mid-tier phones, a sharp screen is the high point, but the Flash's boasts an incredible 12-megapixels. But is it a great camera? The short answer: no, and that's really a shame. Not all megapixels are built the same: the HTC One, for example, has a 4-megapixel sensor that rivals the best cameras. Photos I took lacked any sort of detail, often blurry, even with a neurosurgeon-level steady hand. Color saturation is a bit off as well, with bright colors often washing out to the point that no amount of after-the-fact tinkering can save them. I wouldn't call the camera a complete bust, but photos are far worse than what you'd expect from 12-megapixels. You can record 1080p videos, but the same problems persist. A front-facing 1-megapixel lens is fine for video chat.
The editing and filter options are very generous, though. Not only do you get six shooting modes, including a decent panorama mode, you also get 10 picture sizes, six ISO options and five white balances. There are even 11 Instagram-like filters -- and you can download Instagram to double-up on the effects. You can manually adjust contrast and saturation, and set five shutter interval modes when you need to take multiple snaps. Auto-focus, face recognition, geo-tagging, five bust modes... it's all there. In fact, it'd be easier to list the features it doesn't have -- and I can't even think of any.
Overall, the 12-megapixel camera is impressive, but not in the ways you'd expect. Once you use it, you'll see that the pixels themselves don't add to the photo quality.
The software, though, will perk you up. While it runs on ICS and not Jelly Bean, it's still decent, and it's the closest thing to stock Android you can find outside of the Nexus. There's not much that needs to be said about ICS, but until Sprint pushes out an update, you'll miss out on Jelly Bean's streamline interface and menus.
Bloatware is also kept to a minimum. Sprint added just two apps, and one is actually very useful: you can keep track of your bills and see how much you owe. It's a refreshing change from Verizon, which tries to sneakily racking up charges. If your company runs on enterprise software, the Flash has a data encryption and SAFE management features.
Powered by Sprint's 4G LTE service, I experienced speeds of around 10-megabits per second -- a step down from Verizon and AT&T's networks of around 15. The bigger problem is the coverage. For 3G, it's not a problem, but Sprint's LTE footprint tends to be a bit patchier than the other two, so you want to check your area before committing to two years.
The 1.5-gigahertz dual-core chip is the same sort of processor you'd find on the Galaxy S3, but for some reason, it doesn't perform that way. I experienced some occasional lag, especially during intense gaming or when multiple apps are open, but it's underwhelming. If I didn't know the specs, I'd assume it was a much less speedy chip by the way it runs.
It also comes with a paltry 8-gigabytes of storage, so if you plan to take photos, pick up a microSD card. The 1,780 mAh battery, meanwhile, lasts around eight hours with continuous use, and over a day with moderate use -- a few e-mails, a few videos a few websites. Not bad.
You'll Want It If...
You're looking for a reasonably priced device, and don't mind an old version of Android. It's one of the best bangs for the buck, even if the camera disappoints.
It's Not My Thing -- What Else Ya Got?
If you're looking for a mid-tier device with a great camera, check out the Lumia 810 for T-Mobile, 820 for AT&T or 822 for Verizon -- they're basically the same device on different carriers. You'll get Carl Zeiss optics at an affordable price. But it runs on Windows, so the choices of third-party apps are much less.
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